Urban Studies Assignment



Students will write a 1,500 word (or more) review of Cary McWilliams’ book: Southern California: Island on the Land. The book is available here:

The review will layout McWilliams’ structure for the book, main ideas, what he helps us understand about Los Angeles, etc. As you know, this is not an English class. So, do not spend too much time in your review focusing on McWilliams’ use of language and other literary techniques. At the same time, I’m looking for a well-written, spell-checked, proof-read review. Most importantly, I want you to stay with the content. Show me you’ve read the book carefully, understood it, and that you can clearly make intelligent comments on it and the ideas contained within. I shouldn’t have to say this, but I want to see your words and your words only! I don’t care what others have said about this book. Your assessment of it is all I’m looking for. And if you plan to go on and on about the book being “boring” or “uninteresting” then by all means please don’t complete this assignment! Make it fun for me to read! The review can be submitted at any time but must be completed by the end of WEEK 6. It will be submitted (pasted into) the BOOK REVIEW assignment folder under WEEK 6. Take a look at the link below before you proceed. It might help you think through your writing strategy. (1 BOOK REVIEW = 10 points)


Book review: Southern California: An Island on the Land

            The book, Southern California: An Island on the Land, by Carey McWilliams, is an interesting read that provides intricate details of the development of Southern California from its humble beginnings as a semi-desert land to one the largest cosmopolitan areas in the world. The book is definitive as it offers a diverse spectrum of the composition of Los Angeles as well as its architecture. The book documents the development of the Los Angeles complex from its early mistreatment of the American Indians and the rise of the Mexicans to its current status as a mixed-race city. The author has also explored the main drive for the development of the city, water. He has discussed the growing population and the strain that is put on the water resources. This necessitated a search for alternative water that would support domestic use as well as development.


The author has also explored the growth of Hollywood into the home of world entertainment. He also explores the disengagement of Hollywood from Los Angeles with many Hollywood executives opting to stay away from the civic and philanthropic life of Los Angeles. The author also examines the architecture of the big filmed studios and the exclusive estate that it has created, often characterized with side streets, alleys, walled towns, and with each having its principle thoroughfare. Besides, the book explores Los Angeles’ exceptionalism. The author discusses the way in which the city is different from other cities particularly by highlighting its strange urban character that arose because of haphazard early development. The book, thus, offers a comprehensive description of Southern California that helps one to have a good understanding of the development of the area into one of the most popular and widely-visited area in the United States.

            The title Southern California: An Island on the Land reflects the exceptional attributes of Los Angeles and by extension, the Southern California area. The author chooses to call it an island to express its unique traits that set it apart it from other US cities. To give the audience a better understanding of the city, McWilliams begins his text by giving out the history of the town from its early beginnings. It was largely inhabited by the Americans Indians before the Mexicans invaded it. For a long time, the Hispanics have been the most dominant population there. Before the area was called Southern California, it had other names that included California del Sur, The California of the South, the Cow Counties, and Subtropical California (McWilliams 3). South California forms a distinct regional entity that is very different from Northern California. However, there is no much certainty about the region’s boundaries. What is clear is that it is found on the South of Tehachapi. South and North California are thus separated by the Tehachapi range. The regions have a sharp schism than is witnessed in other state regions.

            The exceptionalism of the region is easily noticeable for anyone entering the region. According to the author, the mountainous surroundings make greatly add to the uniqueness. Being a semi-desert, the mountains help to bring in clean and cool air. “The air is softer, the sea bluer, and the skies have a lazy and radiant warmth” (McWilliams 4). Its exceptionalism can also be noticed in the composition of people. The city of Los Angeles has a minority population that is bigger than the majority population. This implies that the city is comprised of all people regardless of their races or ethnic backgrounds. Los Angeles is thus an area of imported people. Besides, the major factor that contributed to its development, water, has also been imported from the Owen valley through creation of large aqueducts that transport the water all the way to the city. The city’s life hinges on the scarce resource hence the water debate keeps on reoccurring with the constant population increase. The exceptionalism of Los Angeles city is also expressed in its horizontal development as opposed to vertical development. The city has expanded through reaching out to new territories as opposed to building high-rise buildings.


Despite being one of the largest cities in the United States, the city’s skyline cannot be compared to others such as New York. The author captures the general factor in the rise of Southern California as inventive technology. Despite Southern California being one of the smallest regions in America, it has managed to become one of the most intensively developed. The region is exceptional because it has developed despite the limitation of bad soils, lack of natural harbors except San Diego, lack of forests and mineral resources, and lack of adaptable flora and fauna. The author acknowledges that the regions only asset is good climate. The book, therefore, properly captures the exceptionalism of the region, which can be seen in its inventive architectural styles, mixed culture, distinct neighborhoods, a sharp schism between South and North, and its development through imported water. The result of the exceptionalism is that the region is geographically attached as opposed to being functionally related to other parts of America.

            The author has also managed to explore the relationship between the Hollywood and Los Angeles, as well as its overall contribution to the development of Southern California. In this section, the author has comprehensively examined the way in which Hollywood has managed to keep itself independent from the rest of the Los Angeles in terms of architectural and civic terms. Through the movie business, Hollywood has contributed to the inventive era of Los Angeles. This has been done through continuous innovation right from simple studios to the era of silent era where soundproof studios were invented. The author has covered the earliest studies of architecture of the big film studios. The Hollywood has also contributed to its own domestic architectural styles that form an exclusive suburb with its walled housings, alleys, as well as side-streets. In some area, there are private roads that are used exclusively by the Hollywood executives.

            McWilliams, therefore, offers comprehensive chronicles of the growth of infrastructure as well as industry in Southern California both before and after the World War II. Through the analysis, one is able to see the bright future of the city of Los Angeles particularly in regards to transport architecture, as well as inventive technology industries. McWilliams has succeeded in providing a succinct documentation of the transformation of Southern California from a largely semi-desert region to a vibrant area whose popular beaches and favorable climatic conditions attract numerous visits by tourists from other parts of the United States and around the world.

Work Cited

McWilliams, Carey. Southern California: An Island on the Land. Salt Lake City: Gibbs M. Smith Inc, 1983. Print.

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